I am not a horseman.
There, I said it.
Watching a true horseman work with his horse is like watching a graceful dance.
The partners know and understand each other’s strengths and work around their weaknesses. Separately, they are a man and a horse. Together, they become greater than the sum of their parts.
Over the years, I’ve seen horsemen work with their horses, but never experienced it. A long time ago, I gave it a try from the ground up. I adopted a young colt from the Bureau of Land Management. He was born deep in the desert of the Great Basin and had likely never seen a human before the gathering.
I began teaching him to lead with a rope and halter. Days later, it just wasn’t working. If there was a mistake to be made, I made it—sometimes more than once. I needed help.
I gave John, our local horse training legend, a call. It takes him about three hours to gentle a wild horse to where it leads in the pen. He makes it look easy. As it happens, John was giving a clinic on Mustang gentling. He asked me to bring my horse for a demonstration.
On the big day, after a morning of lectures and examples, John sidled up to my bench and said, “You’re up next; why don’t you put your colt in the round pen.” I headed for the trailer with halter and lead rope in hand.
Twenty/twenty hindsight shows me I was moving much too quickly when I entered that trailer. I tried to coax that young horse into the halter and he flowered into a full bloom Touch-Me- Not. Anxious to be ready on time for the demonstration, I allowed myself to be involved in a slow-motion chase with a frightened young horse inside a 16-foot stock trailer—not a smart move.
I was frustrated, when I turned my head to check the gathering crowd—with no warning—he kicked me with both hooves in the solar plexis. I slammed back against the trailer wall.
Still upright and breathing, if barely, it took me a moment to realize I wasn’t injured. The colt had certainly gotten my attention.
That’s when John poked his head in my trailer to see what was holding up the show: “Why don’t you let me handle it from here,” he said.
At that moment, I was delighted for that horse to be someone else’s problem—even if only for a short time. I hobbled out of the trailer and John stepped in and handled the situation, with ease.
Slowly, I wheezed my way toward the bleachers. By then, I was reasonably sure I would live, but moving too far or fast was out of the question. As I settled into my seat, I saw John calmly holding my horse in the round pen.
He was looking directly at me in the middle of the crowd. I listened to what he was saying...
“... and sometimes an owner will get himself into trouble when he’s thinking about other things while working with his horse.”
As John’s words registered in my dented brain, I froze. Replaying the incident in my mind, it didn’t take long to figure out where the problem with my horse started—ME.
I was distinctly uncomfortable sitting there in the stands. With my mind racing, I wondered if I had caused other problems with my horse. Immediately, I decided that I didn’t like the answer.
John spoke from the ring again, “Bing, why don’t you come up and work with your horse while I walk you through a few pointers.”
Slowly, I wheezed my way through the panels and joined him in the round pen. John handed me the horse’s lead rope. He stepped back and with a gentle voice, put the horse and myself through a series of rubbing and touching exercises that helped us relax around each other once again.
It wasn’t long before John finished with us. Calmly, I led the young horse out of the round pen and loaded him in the trailer for the trip home.
Years later, I’m not sure who learned more that day—the horse or me. While I’m still not a horseman and haven’t achieved that zen-like state between man and animal, it’s something I’m working on. — Bing Bingham [Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. If you have a story to pass along, contact him at bing@ bingbingham.com.]